Articles Posted in Communications Law

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Over the last 10 years, the Federal Communications Commission has established rules governing how local governments may regulate cable companies. In 2007, the FCC barred franchising authorities from imposing unreasonable demands on franchise applicants or requiring new cable operators to provide non-cable services. The FCC also read narrowly the phrase “requirements or charges incidental to the awarding . . . of [a] franchise” (47 U.S.C. 542(g)(2)(D)), with the effect of limiting the monetary fees that local franchising authorities can collect. A petition for review was denied. Meanwhile, the FCC sought comment on expanding the application of the First Order’s rules—which applied only to new applicants for a cable franchise—to incumbent providers. In its Second Order, the FCC expanded the First Order’s application as proposed. Local franchising authorities again objected. The FCC finally rejected objections after seven years; the FCC clarified that the Second Order applied to only local (rather than state) franchising processes and published a “Supplemental Final Regulatory Flexibility Act Analysis.” Local governments sought review, arguing that the FCC misinterpreted the Communications Act, and failed to explain the bases for its decisions. The Sixth Circuit granted the petition in part; while “franchise fee” (section 542(g)(1)) can include noncash exactions, the orders were arbitrary to the extent they treat “in-kind” cable-related exactions as “franchise fees” under section 541(g)(1). The FCC’s orders offer no valid basis for its application of the mixed-use rule to bar local franchising authorities from regulating the provision of non-telecommunications services by incumbent cable providers. View "Montgomery County. v. Federal Communications Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2010, Besse, a pharmaceutical distributor, sent a one-page fax advertising the drug Prolia to 53,502 physicians. Only 40,343 of these faxes were successfully transmitted. Sandusky, a chiropractic clinic that employed one of the physicians, claims to have received this “junk fax,” and, three years later, filed a lawsuit under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. 227. The district court denied Sandusky’s motion for class certification. It held that Sandusky’s proposed class failed to satisfy Rule 23(b)(3) because two individualized issues—class member identity and consent—were central to the lawsuit and thus prevented “questions of law or fact common to class members [from] predominat[ing].” In the absence of fax logs, no classwide means existed by which to identify the 75% of individuals who received the Prolia fax; “each potential class member would have to submit an affidavit certifying receipt of the Prolia fax.” The Sixth Circuit affirmed, noting that Besse presented actual evidence of consent to the district court, which required the need for individualized inquiries in order to distinguish between solicited and unsolicited Prolia faxes. The court stated that it was unaware of any court that ever mandated certification of a TCPA class where fax logs did not exist. View "Sandusky Wellness Center, LLC v. ASD Specialty Healthcare, Inc." on Justia Law

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Reporting regulatory violations “up the chain” to supervisory governmental employees can constitute speech on a matter of public concern, for purposes of First Amendment retaliation claim. Mayhew, a long-time employee of Smyrna’s wastewater-treatment plant, reported violations of state and federal requirements and voiced concerns about the hiring of a manager’s nephew without advertising the position. His reports went up the chain of command to government employees. Mayhew was terminated, allegedly because the plant manager no longer felt that he could work with him. The district court rejected his claim of First Amendment retaliation on summary judgment, reasoning that Mayhew’s speech did not involve matters of public concern. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, stating that “constitutional protection for speech on matters of public concern is not premised on the communication of that speech to the public.” Nor must courts limit reports of wrongdoing to illegal acts; a public concern includes “any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community.” View "Mayhew v. Town of Smyrna" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, municipal corporations operate the local “emergency communications” or “911” programs in their respective counties, alleged that the telephone company, to reduce costs, offer lower prices, and obtain more customers, engaged in a covert practice of omitting fees mandated by Tennessee’s Emergency Communications District Law (Code 7-86-101), and sought compensation under that statute. They also alleged that, while concealing this practice, the telephone company violated the Tennessee False Claims Act. The district court dismissed the first claim, finding that the statute contained no implied private right of action, and rejecting the second claim on summary judgment on the second claim, finding that the statements at issue were not knowingly false. In consolidated appeals, the Sixth Circuit reversed. Plaintiffs provided evidence of a “massive quantity of unexplained unbilled lines,” establishing a disputed question of material fact. The Law does not require the plaintiffs to prove that the defendant acted in some form of bad faith, given that the statute imposes liability for “deliberate ignorance” View "Knox County Emergency Communications District v. BellSouth Telecommunications LLC" on Justia Law

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AT&T applied for a permit from the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Planning Commission to build a 125-foot cell-phone tower. Neighboring residents opposed the application, arguing that the tower would spoil the view from their properties, disturb the character of the neighborhood, endanger public health and safety, and depress residential property values. They cited a staff report concerning the tower's visual impact, an expert report on radio frequency emissions, and valuation studies. The Commission granted the site permit. The Fayette County Circuit Court dismissed an appeal on procedural grounds. A state court appeal is pending. The district court dismissed a separate suit alleging negligence, negligence per se, gross negligence, and nuisance. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, citing “obstacle” preemption by the federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. The court also noted that the claims constituted an improper collateral attack on the Commission’s decision to approve the tower. View "Robbins v. New Cingular Wireless PCS, LLC" on Justia Law

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Ohio House Bill No. 663 protects the identity of individuals and entities that participate in the lethal injection process (Participants), not to be disclosed in public records or during judicial proceedings, except in limited circumstances, Ohio Rev. Code 149.43(A)(1)(cc), 2949.221(B)–(C). It directs courts to seal records that contain information related to the identity of Participants, allowing disclosure only if, “through clear and convincing evidence presented in the private hearing," the court finds that the Participant appears to have acted unlawfully with respect to the person’s involvement in the administration of a lethal injection.” HB 663 prevents licensing authorities from taking disciplinary action against a Participant and permits a Participant to bring a civil suit against any person who discloses that individual’s identity and participation. Plaintiffs, Ohio prisoners sentenced to death, claimed that HB 663 unconstitutionally burdened speech, created a regime of unconstitutional prior restraint, violated the Plaintiffs’ equal-protection and due-process rights, and their right of access to the courts, and denied the Plaintiffs constitutionally protected access to government proceedings. The Sixth Circuit affirmed dismissal, reasoning that the Plaintiffs lacked standing to challenge the Licensure-Immunity Provision and the Civil-Action Provision. Plaintiffs suffered only “conjectural or hypothetical injuries” rather than a “requisite distinct and palpable injury.” Plaintiffs had no constitutional right to the information they claimed they were being deprived of. View "Phillips v. DeWine" on Justia Law

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One sitting judge and two aspiring Kentucky judges challenged the Commonwealth’s Code of Judicial Conduct clauses prohibiting “campaign[ing] as a member of a political organization,” “endors[ing] . . . a candidate for public office,” “mak[ing] a contribution to a political organization,” making any “commitments” with respect to “cases, controversies, or issues” likely to come before the court, making “false” or “misleading” statements. The sitting judge, previously appointed, made statements regarding being “re-elected,” and concerning penalties for heroin use. A candidate for the judiciary referred to himself as a Republic and his opponents as Democrats. The Third plaintiff wanted to publicly participate in Republican Party functions. The district court struck some of these provisions and upheld others. The Sixth Circuit found contributions, leadership, false statements and endorsement clauses valid. The campaigning, speeches, clauses are unconstitutional. The misleading statements prohibition is valid on its face, but may be unconstitutional as applied to one of the plaintiffs. View "Winter v. Wolnitzek" on Justia Law

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Luis, a resident of Florida, developed an online personal relationship with Ohio resident, Catherine. The relationship was apparently platonic, but Catherine’s husband, Joseph, was suspicious and secretly installed WebWatcher on Catherine’s computer to monitor her communications. According to Luis, WebWatcher and its manufacturer, Awareness, surreptitiously intercepted the emails, instant messages, and other communications between Luis and Catherine and disclosed the communications to Joseph, who used them as leverage to divorce Catherine on favorable terms. Luis filed suit and eventually settled his claims against all defendants except Awareness, against which he alleged violations of the federal Wiretap Act, 18 U.S.C. 2511-2512, the Ohio Wiretap Act, and Ohio common law. The district court dismissed, reasoning that concluded that Awareness did not “intercept” Luis’s communications because it was Joseph—not Awareness—that installed the WebWatcher program. The Sixth Circuit reversed, stating that the lower court failed to take into account the extent to which Awareness itself was allegedly engaged in the asserted violations, noting Awareness’s continued operation of the WebWatcher program, even after that program is sold to a user. Luis’s complaint sufficiently alleged that Awareness​ (via WebWatcher) acquires communications in a manner that is contemporaneous with their transmission. View "Luis v. Zang" on Justia Law

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Tennessee and North Carolina municipalities that provide broadband service would like to expand their networks beyond their current territorial boundaries to underserved nearby areas. State laws either forbid or put onerous restrictions on such expansion by municipal telecommunications providers. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), citing its statutory mandates to remove barriers to broadband service and to promote competition in the telecommunications market, issued an order purporting to preempt these state statutory provisions. The Sixth Circuit reversed the order, which “essentially serves to re-allocate decision-making power between the states and their municipalities.” No federal statute or FCC regulation requires the municipalities to expand or otherwise to act in contravention of the preempted state statutory provisions. This preemption by the FCC of the allocation of power between a state and its subdivisions requires at least a clear statement in the authorizing federal legislation. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, cited by the FCC, states that the FCC “shall” take action to promote broadband deployment, but “falls far short of such a clear statement.” View "State of Tenn. v. Fed. Commc'n Comm'n" on Justia Law

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An Ohio State Dental Board-recognized specialist must complete a postdoctoral education program in a specialty recognized by the American Dental Association and limit the scope of his practice to that specialty. The use of the terms “specialist”, “specializes” or “practice limited to” or the terms “orthodontist”, “oral and maxillofacial surgeon”, “oral and maxillofacial radiologist”, “periodontist”, “pediatric dentist”, “prosthodontist”, “endodontist”, “oral pathologist”, or “public health dentist” or similar terms is limited to licensed Board-recognized specialists.. Any general dentist who uses those terms in advertisements can have his dental license placed on probationary status, suspended, or revoked. Kiser, a licensed dentist with postdoctoral education in endodontics (root-canal procedures). does not to limit his practice exclusively to endodontics. The Board’s regulations treat him as a general dentist. He is banned from using the word “endodontist” in his advertisements. In 2009, the Board warned Kiser with respect to the regulations, but did not take further action. In 2012, Kiser requested that the Board review signage that would include the terms “endodontist” and “general dentist.” The Board neither approved nor rejected Kiser’s proposed signage, but recommended that he consult legal counsel. Kiser challenged the regulations as violating: the First Amendment right to commercial speech; substantive and procedural due process; and equal protection. The district court twice dismissed Kiser’s claims. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part, finding that Kiser had stated viable claims with respect to the First Amendment, substantive due process, and equal protection. View "Kiser v. Kamdar" on Justia Law